Pre-hospital Communication

As well as the Airwave system already mentioned, there are many different types of communication that can be used in the pre-hospital environment.


Generally used as the primary method of communication, a wide variety of frequencies allow users to talk to each other or in different groups without interference. Radio allows rapid communication with portable units, though depend on the ability to transmit signal between the units, which may be difficult indoors, underground, or due to other geographical features.

The Radio Amateurs Emergency Network (RAYNET) is a British national voluntary communications service provided by amateur radio operators. On police request, they will attend incidents to establish a local radio network to supplement emergency communication channels.6


Preferred over radio for direct communication such passing a pre-alert to the hospital red phone, or when a lengthier conversation is required (in order not to tie up the radio channel). Mobile phone conversations bypass the central control however, and therefore the activity might not be logged or recorded in a standard format.

During major incidents, conventional phone networks may be overloaded and ineffective. At the request of the Police Gold Commander (in charge of the major incident response), the Mobile Telecommunication Privileged Access Scheme (MTPAS) may be activated, giving designated emergency responders a higher likelihood of being able to make a call than other customers.7

Direct signals

Hand signals can be used to pass information over short distances in line of sight. The Fire and Rescue Service uses repeated short whistle blasts as a standard evacuation signal, and many search and rescue teams will also have agreed whistle signals. These require familiarity with use, and for individuals to be able to interpret signals in what may be a chaotic environment.


Over short distances, runners are a fast and reliable option at the scene of a major incident and can be take photographs or be given handwritten notes and diagrams so that the message is not inadvertently altered en route. Difficult terrain can make using runners more difficult, and it is vital that it is clear who they are to report to.

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